App of the Day: Homerun Battle 3D
Aiming for the stars.
I have a strange relationship with North American sports, but their key characteristic is endlessly mesmerising: spectacle. Every year I watch the Superbowl, just about following the game but always enjoying the show. Even calling it a game is wrong: it's an event. This is the only culture in the world that could have created sports entertainment.
Spectacle is fascinating in and of itself, but its magical effect is in focusing people's attention on the moments that matter - blowing them up on a stadium-sized screen and replaying that hit or miss five times before the next act. Catch or fumble. Homerun or out. Baseball is a game with many aspects, but that second when bat meets ball is what everything revolves around.
Homerun Battle 3D hits it out of the park. This gem of a game is all about that one moment, over and over, because nothing else matters. Your slugger stands on his patch, the pitch-perfect tilt controls move the bat, and one irrevocable tap swings.
At first it's nice just to score a hit. Then you realise that not only are homeruns worth more, but getting them in a row stacks the points up. The real Homerun Battle 3D starts here. Though the game offers some pretty great single-player options, you'll barely touch them, because this is all about multiplayer.
It offers the fastest matchmaking on iOS, linking you up with someone in seconds, and lets each player check out the other's garb and stats before committing. The organ's playing a warm-up tune as you step up to the plate, one second to get set, and game on.
Homerun Battle's most delicious touch is a screen in the top-right corner where you can see your opponent's swings. You quickly learn to parse the effects without looking directly at it, so you'll always have an idea where they're at without taking your eye off the ball. It can be hard. Some games you win and some games you lose, but Homerun Battle's greatest achievement is making you nervous, making you sweat. When there's the chance to close out a game but the other guy's coming on strong, there's nowhere to hide
In other games you soar. The balls fly left, down the centre, out to the right - and the 'cycling' logo comes up on screen. Your slugger calls the shots before the pitcher even throws, and you crack those balls where they need to go. The crowd is going berserk. Your score's off the charts. Your opponent has left the room.
If you're interested in Homerun Battle 3D, there's a free version, but avoid the sequel. Much as I am loath to describe a game as a faithless dog, Homerun Battle 3D 2 sullies the perfect formula of the original with too many 'special' balls and unnecessary frills. This original is what captures something of baseball. Not the scale or complexity, but the single key moment on which all those other things turn.
Homerun Battle 3D is in some respects limited - after all, it only offers one interaction you repeat again and again. But in making that one interaction mean so much, in squeezing a whole sport's worth of spectacle into that fraction of a second, it becomes much more than a swing. It's more than a hit; it's more than a homerun; it's even more than a release. For that fraction of time, in your whole being, it's everything.
App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.